Here is what to expect in and around the hive in April.
In the hive
On cold days, the bees are still clustered, but on warm sunny days, they should be bringing in lots of pollen and nectar. If their flights are limited by cold or inclement weather, they may still be at risk of starvation. The colony, if big enough, begins to rear drones in greater numbers.
- On the warmest days, you can quickly inspect a colony’s brood pattern and food stores, taking care not to chill the brood.
- If the bottom brood chamber is empty, move it to the top of the brood nest. Doing so before a day or two of warm temperatures will help brood survive the move.
- After installing a new package or nuc, allow two weeks for the colony to establish before an inspection.
- The colony should have at least 3-4 combs full of honey. Feed them if the colony is light or the stores obviously empty. Feed them if the hive is light or the stores obviously empty, or if the bees are visible through the inner cover at the very top of the hive. Use dry sugar or a candy board, or replace empty combs with combs of capped honey. Sugar syrup is also an option: feed a 1:1 mix in a feeder that holds enough syrup that it doesn’t need refilling every day, but not so much that it gets moldy before the bees finish it. If the bees are reliant on this food, you will likely need to continue to feed until nectar and pollen are accessible outside.
- The location/proximity of the bees to their food stores is key. If the cluster is far to one side of the food stores, you can carefully move it closer, keeping it together while you do so, or move frames of honey closer to it.
- You might consider feeding pollen substitute or supplement to support or further stimulate egg laying. If you do so, be sure to use clean pollen.
- Feed package bees or nucs upon their arrival.
- If you plan to rear queens this year, lavishly feed the cell finisher colony chosen in the fall lavishly (carbohydrates and protein) for early spring buildup.
Pests, parasites, and diseases
- Begin monthly monitoring for Varroa mites. At this point in the year, if you find two or more mites (per 100 bees) from a sugar shake, ether roll, or alcohol wash, you will want to treat. Treatment methods will depend on your management goals, the condition of the colony, and external conditions. This is an ideal time to use treatments that cannot be used when supers are present.
- If drones are being reared in significant numbers, you can use drone comb for early Varroa management, but be sure to return within 28 days at a minimum, to ensure that it doesn’t become a haven for mites!
- Carefully check every brood frame in each colony for an American foulbrood infection.
- Cleaning dead bees and detritus off the bottom board during the first thorough inspection may help keep the hive disease- and pest-free.
- Install any new packages or nucs that arrive.
- Equalizing can be accomplished through donating a frame or two of brood from one hive to another or swapping hive locations.
- If your inspection reveals that a queen is under-performing, if you want the vigor of a young queen, or if you want to introduce new stock for hygienic behavior or other traits, you might consider re-queening. This is a good month to do it, although local queens are probably in short supply this early in the year.
- To rear queens yourself this year, continue to build your cell builder colony while preventing it from swarming. Check often for swarm cells, and cut out any you find.
- Remove insulation, winter wraps, mouse guards, etc. Entrance reducers can be left on; many beekeepers use them year-round.
- Check that any bear fencing is still working properly and replace batteries if necessary.
- In the event that some colonies did not survive the winter, this is a good time of year to diagnose dead-outs and learn from your mistakes.